You want me to save how much, Vigilante?!

Wondering how you can save enough money to retire early? Or how it’s possible to live on less than minimum wage and have all those modern life-enhancing conveniences? Here are some painless ways that the Vigilante and his supporting cast have saved money, split up into progressively badass difficulty levels. Each difficulty level will save more than the last, and the Total Vigilante level can easily make the difference between retirement in less than 10 years and retirement in 35 years, especially in lower income situations where the necessary high savings rate is hard to come by. Follow this advice, and you’ll see that living (and living extravagantly) on about minimum wage isn’t that hard for most of us- and that’s speaking from experience, as about 80% of my income currently goes to student loans. Everything beyond minimum comfort is potential savings!

Advice that generally pertains to men is in blue, and advice that generally pertains to women is in pink, because we’re innocently Grandma-doesn’t-understand-boys-can-play-with-dolls-too sexist around here. But if you’re a woman and want to take the men’s advice to grow a beard, you can save even more!

 

Home

Dabbling Normie:

  • Be willing to rent or buy depending on your circumstances. Use this calculator to decide which is better.1
  • Shop around for the cheapest repairs. If renting, offer to do repairs yourself at the expense of your landlord. Many won’t agree due to the risk of shoddy work, but Vigilantes don’t do shoddy work, so show your landlord this blog!
  • Make your home’s temperature as self-regulating as possible. Insulate well, plant trees outside, use thermal curtains, take advantage of windows with too much/too little light, depending on the season. Ensure proper circulation, have real houseplants,2 control the humidity if necessary.
  • Program your A/C unit, if possible. Some homes may do better with a constantly running fan to circulate air; others may do better on the Auto setting. Some may drag in excess humidity from condensation on the coils if set to Auto.
  • Use energy efficient lights and appliances. Pro tip: Many energy companies will supply samples of lights and low-flow showerheads/faucet aerators for free upon request!
  • Cell phone only. Let your grandmothers of the world use the landlines, rotary phones, and carrier pigeons.
  • Get the slowest high-speed internet connection you can. For a family of 2-4, the slowest or second slowest connection is likely all you need. You can stream 2-3 high definition movies at a time on that, and that’s no small feat. Don’t listen to the marketing encouraging you to get more – most of the speed and bandwidth the higher speeds are capable of will go unused unless there are 6 or more people doing intense activities like streaming HD movies or gaming.
  • Lower the water heater temperature to the lowest safe temperature. Depending on local codes, and your risk tolerance, probably around 120 degrees.

Vigilante-in-training:

  • Do maintenance yourself whenever possible.
  • Toughen up. Raise the temperature in the summer, lower it in the winter. Wear the appropriate clothes and stop whining. You’ll adjust.
  • Find creative ways to make energy-efficient appliances even more efficient. For example, keep your refrigerator and freezer well-stocked at all times, and don’t put hot foods in until they’ve cooled to about room temperature. The fridge is one of the highest consumers of energy in most households, as it is fighting a constant, energy-draining battle to cool air inside. They are well-insulated, so much of that is due to the fact that it loses a little of its precious cooled air every time the door is opened. Solids and liquids transfer heat less readily than gases, and they are staying inside of the fridge when it is opened rather than mixing with the warmer outside air the instant you open the door, as gases do. So, the more solids and liquids are in your unit, the less work it has to do to cool the inside air to repair the damage caused by opening it.
  • Use a cell phone plan that reimburses for unused data. The Vigilante happily uses Republic Wireless, and pays about $18/month for unlimited talk, text, and occasional data use on Sprint’s 3G network. With the big companies, that kind of plan runs around $80-100 per month.

Total Vigilante:

  • Rent out your old home if you buy a new one. Hell, rent out part of your new one.3
  • Do the maintenance yourself, to whatever extent legal. Maybe more.4
  • Don’t use A/C unless the outside temperature exceeds a certain safety threshold (depending on conditions like humidity, sunlight in your home, activity level, etc.)
  • Ditch the data plan. You can access WiFi almost everywhere, anyway, and Facebooking while driving isn’t cool.
  • Produce your own energy. Solar panels, USB pedal charger on your bicycle, burn things in a fireplace for heat. Added bonus: Burning things brings primal pride, like whiskey.

 

Transportation

Dabbling Normie:

  • Use public transportation wherever possible.
  • Buy a cheaper car. No SUVs or pickup trucks unless you work on a farm or are routinely towing the space shuttle. Get something appropriate to the job you’re doing. For a daily commute and soccer practice, that means the smallest, most fuel-efficient speck of a car that you can fit inside of.
  • Use an app like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas in your area when you need it. Bonus if you have some sort of rewards card with the gas station, like the one I have for my grocery store – which happens to sell some of my groceries at cheaper prices than any other local store. So, I buy what I would buy anyway, then get a discount on gas!
  • Replace your car’s air filter regularly. It’s easy.
  • For long roadtrips, try to kill two birds with one stone. Visit your long-lost family in Baltimore and take your mini-Vigilante to the aquarium at the same time.
  • Keep one credit card with travel rewards and be sure not to let the rewards expire.
  • Bike.

Vigilante-in-training:

  • Never, ever borrow money for a car. Ever. No excuses.
  • Practice hypermiling when you drive.5
  • Share a car with as many people as possible. If you live alone or otherwise can’t share ownership, consider renting it out via a service like RelayRides.6
  • Change your own oil.
  • Do all bicycle maintenance yourself.
  • Game the credit card rewards system,7 provided that you are not pursuing any large purchases in the near future. This can, if you make a mistake, screw up your credit rating for years. But otherwise, it is a harmless exercise that can result in gigantic, immediate gains for you at the cost of nothing but a few minutes of time to research cards, consider consequences to your credit score, and sign up for cards.
  • BIKE.

Total Vigilante:

  • BIKE. Or walk.
  • Carpool, if you absolutely must drive, and make it a priority to find a way not to drive again.
  • Do all car maintenance yourself.
  • Become a one car household.

 

Insurance

Dabbling Normie:

  • Pay on the longest time-scale possible. Buying insurance annually generally saves money over 6-month payments, for example.
  • Shop around, and check with every membership you have (alumni association, professional association, homeowner’s association, gym, dry cleaner) for discounts before committing.
  • Combine insurance where possible. Getting multiple types of coverage with the same company generally results in discounts for one or several, and putting more people/items on one policy generally results in lower costs for each subsequent addition. The key is to distribute the risk, from the perspective of the insurer, and to show loyalty (if the company deserves it!).

Vigilante-in-training:

  • There’s really not much of an intermediate step. Insurance is easy, unless you go total Vigilante. Perhaps try to know your insurance policy extremely well, so you don’t miss opportunities to collect, even for unorthodox or unexpected covered items. 8 button on the microwave broke? Check the homeowner’s policy!

Total Vigilante:

  • Self-insure, where possible. For example: Find yourself a high-deductible, low-premium health insurance plan with a Health Savings Account so that more of the risk is on you and less on a company that charges customers for risk. Or, if renting, consider whether the benefits of an optional renter’s insurance policy outweighs the risk you assume by not having it. In some cases, going without renter’s insurance may be better.

 

Food

Dabbling Normie:

  • Drink water before eating. You’ll probably eat less, and water is the single most important nutrient anyway (and often among the cheapest, depending on your location).
  • Buy groceries in bulk. Try Costco, Sam’s Club, and online retailers like Amazon.
  • Buy other groceries at discount stores, dollar stores, and online.
  • Buy store brands, not the name brands with exactly the same ingredients. To you web-design literate: Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with an affiliate link for “store brands.”
  • Eat real food.
  • Pack lunch for work every day. Cook every meal, if possible.
  • Make your own drinks. Coffee is ridiculously easy to make – no barista necessary. Alcoholic beverages are a little tougher, but fun and a valuable skill.8
  • Keep the fridge and freezer full. Solids transfer heat less readily than gas, so the cost of keeping everything cool will decrease with more solid mass inside. I stock up on frozen vegetables and meats, often, without the intent to eat them for a month or two.
  • Plant herbs in your windowsill. They require only a little bit of sun, a little bit of water, and a little bit of time, but they pay out year-round in any climate. No more buying several $5 bottles of herbs at the store every month, since you’re always cooking!

Vigilante-in-training:

  • Buy food on a price vs. calorie basis, with consideration to the trace nutrients as well. You’ll eat a lot of rice, beans, lentils, and cheap nuts. If you don’t like that, don’t worry – you’ll also be healthy and rich!
  • Plant a fruit tree. Potted, if you lack yard space. I grow a Meyer lemon tree in my window (outside in the summer), and as soon as it bears fruit, I will have 30-40 years worth of lemons for the cost of one retail organic lemon (for seeds) and under $10 in water and fertilizer.
  • Plant a full garden. Grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, everything you want. Never buy a fruit or vegetable again, unless it’s out of season in your area.

Total Vigilante:

  • Buy your groceries with a price-matching program. Collect ads for all the local stores and make the store you’re at matches the lowest price for each item.
  • Become a crazy couponer. It takes a lot of time, but the return can be incredible if you work manufacturer coupons and store coupons together.
  • Plant an indoor garden for year-round savings. An aquaponic garden can provide easy veggies, fruits, and fish for life at very little cost after the planning and building stage.9 It also makes fishing easier!
  • Hunt and fish for food, not sport. Not saying this should be your exclusive source of food, but if hunting or fishing is a hobby, make a profit on that hobby.

 

Health and Hygiene

Dabbling Normie:

  • Shave with a safety razor. No more buying $20 multi-blade razors.
  • Cut your own hair. (Both sexes! With varying difficulty…) Get the universal men’s grooming device.
  • Use a low-flow showerhead and low-flow faucet aerators.
  • Use less soap/shampoo/conditioner in the shower. Challenge yourself every day to see how little you can use with adequate results.
  • Turn off the damn lights. The Vigilante hasn’t taken a shower and used electricity10 simultaneously in years.
  • Don’t buy cleaning supplies unless necessary. Google creative solutions with vinegar, for instance.
  • Get the cheapest gym membership you can find, and use it. Whether you are male or female, know that bench press, parallel squat, and deadlift are your friends. The physical and mental health benefits of regular lifting easily outweigh the expense of a $10 Planet Fitness membership.

Vigilante-in-training:

  • Shave with a straight razor. No more having to buy razors at all, for the rest of your life!
  • Wear very limited makeup. Use lotion for moisturizing, and stick to one cheap brand of whatever you use.
  • Get a real home gym. Buy a weight rack, free weights, and carefully use proper technique to work out at home. For $700, you can have all the equipment necessary for every workout you’ll ever need for decades.

Total Vigilante:

  • Grow a beard. No razors and no shaving cream either. Trim with the same universal men’s grooming device you already own!
  • Don’t wear makeup.
  • Use your body weight for exercise. Hardly any workout routine is more effective than pushups, pullups, and plyometrics, anyway.
  • Swim for exercise, if you live by a safe body of water.

 

Clothing

Dabbling Normie:

  • Buy your clothes at a thrift store.
  • Learn basic sewing. How to repair a broken button, how to hem pants.
  • Iron and steam your own clothing, and let clothes air out. For suits, dry cleaning is necessary only once or twice a year if you maintain them well.
  • Sell worn out, outgrown, or unused clothing. Unused, at this level, is something you wear less than twice a month. Sell on ebay, craigslist, any of the dozens of apps, or at a thrift shop or yard sale.

Vigilante-in-training:

  • Learn more advanced sewing and similar skills. Make your own caps, scarves, etc. Alter old, ill-fitting clothing to fit you better for continued use.
  • Sell unused clothing, lowering the bar to clothes not worn several times per month.

Total Vigilante:

  • Stop buying clothes. Wear the free stuff given to you at events or as gifts, and keep an old suit or dress around for special occasions.

 

Random

Dabbling Normie:

  • TRACK YOUR SPENDING AND SAVING. Use Mint and Personal Capital.
  • Cut cable. Replace it, if you must, with cheap services like Netflix or Hulu Plus. But free services like YouTube have more content than you could ever watch, and much better content than cable. Sorry, all you Real Housewives.
  • Play with your damn kids, especially outside. Quadruple bonus: They are happier, they are smarter, you are happier, and you save a ton of money on electricity.
  • Borrow and trade for things. Tools, games, DVDs – all of it can likely be found at a neighbor’s house, and you can help your neighbor, too. Another win-win.
  • Go to the library. Don’t buy books – but if you do, buy used.
  • Use free programs and apps instead of brand name programs and apps. Freeware is often just as good or better than the heavily-marketed or professional alternatives. For example: Use the GIMP instead of Adobe Photoshop.
  • Use hand-me-down everything for your baby. He or she won’t know the difference, and you won’t be poor. And your family/friends will be happy to give up all their old baby stuff. Compensate them if you like; at least you aren’t paying retail.

Vigilante-in-training:

  • Negotiate for hotel rooms. If they aren’t used on any given day, they are wasted, so getting a hotel room at the last minute means the customer has the leverage. A hotel that charges $200 per night would rather get $100 than $0 on that Friday evening when you’re just passing through.
  • Make games to entertain the kids. Custom board games, word games, competitions.
  • Consider cloth diapers rather than disposables.
  • Build your own computer. It’s not as hard as it sounds, and all the parts are on sites like TigerDirect.
  • Reuse everything, no matter how small. Aluminum foil as a cover/cooking aid can often be reused, for example. Draw the line at toilet paper.

Total Vigilante:

  • Develop hobbies that make money rather than cost money. Build and sell furniture, teach people how to lift, write a blog.11
  • Haggle. For everything, even those exceedingly rare retail purchases you still weakly make.
  • Don’t pay someone else to do anything you can do yourself.

 

Got some more ways to be frugal and save money? Share your tips in the comments! I’m always looking for ways to save!

  1. You’ll also want to consider your lifestyle. How long you want to be in the area, how much travel you intend to do, and basically a million other things have to be considered before buying. And remember, your answers to those questions may change over time, and buying is a much more permanent decision than a year long or month-to-month lease, so it has to be made more carefully. Renting gives you mobility, which is of incredible importance in many industries today.
  2. Houseplants, particularly broad-leafed, dark green, easy-to-care-for plants, help clean the air, control humidity, and generally look pretty.
  3. While I would love to do this myself, Mrs. Vigilante isn’t fully on board with it. She’s considering the idea. Maybe some day! …no pressure or anything
  4. The Vigilante is not responsible for any code violations a Dabbling Normie may commit in a misguided attempt to skip to True Vigilante level in training.
  5. There will be a future post on exactly what this means! Cliff’s Notes: Drive at a sane speed, gain speed going downhill, draft larger vehicles form a safe distance, turn off the A/C unless you’re going really fast, install high-performance spark plugs, properly inflate your tires, regularly rotate your tires, and get rid of weight in the car wherever possible. Most importantly, accelerate as little as possible. Coast into stops – if you hit your brake, you’ve made a mistake. This has the added bonus of easing traffic for everybody.
  6. I’ve never used RelayRides, and I would very carefully consider the risks before using it. But it is an interesting concept.
  7. Future post!
  8. A skill The Vigilante doesn’t have, except Old Fashioneds.
  9. There will be a future post to recount The Vigilante’s semi-successful ongoing experiment with a very small-scale aquaponic garden of approximately two square feet. I’ve learned a lot about aquaculture and hydroponics, but I still have a way to go before my knowledge will be useful to you!
  10. Other than a water heater and, usually when Mrs. Vigilante is around and listening as well, maybe some device to play music.
  11. Not that these things usually make money…

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